Politicizing masks cost American lives and jobs

If everyone had worn a mask since March, tens of thousands of Americans might be alive.

President Donald J. Trump bears direct responsibility for that, as well as the absence of the testing and contact tracing capacity we must have to reopen safely.

Why have European and Asian counties been able to suppress this pandemic while the USA has not?

The public health playbook for a pandemic is not a secret: universal masks, robust, rapid testing, contact tracing, & supported isolation & treatment — quarantine — for infections.

It’s the *only strategy* that will help us reopen in a safe way until we develop an effective vaccine, vaccinate 70%+, and have effective antivirals and therapeutics.

Masks are about protecting other people, & them protecting you, while scientists work on a safe, viable vaccine.

The key exception is someone who needs to gear up with a N95 as a healthcare worker or first responder to treat infected patients, in which case they’ll need that respirator, face shield, gloves & gown.

But that better mask would help on a subway or bus or plane or office. If we had manufactured tens of millions of N95 masks & distributed them this spring, Americans would be safer — like South Koreans, who did exactly that, distributing inexpensive masks around their nation.

We should have them, and all be wearing them.

Republicans seem to have realized they are on the wrong side of public opinion, the global health consensus, and history, shifting to saying everyone should mask up, with Speaker McConnell, Leader McCarthy and Rep. Cheney all speaking out in favor of wearing them last week.

But President Trump hasn’t just refused to wear a mask himself or tweet his *own administration’s guidance” on people wearing a mask: He has used his bully pulpit on Twitter and White House events to mock people who mask up & cast doubt on their effectiveness.

After months of anti-mask messaging, he finally reversed himself last week.

Why?

Republicans in Congress and Governors finally decided to support this crucial public health intervention — like their peers in the rest of the world’s developed nations and democracies — to stop the spread of COVID19.

“‘I’m all for masks,’ Trump lied, adding that he would wear one himself if he were in a crowded room (he hasn’t) and noting that he had a black one on recently. “I sort of liked the way I looked.’”

And then he hosted two large public events where people close together were not required to wear masks.

His defenders should ask why that didn’t happen in March, April, May, or June, and how many lives were lost as a result.

Every preventable death is a tragedy and I’m not willing to lose my parents or friends or neighbors to malign negligence.

President Trump is the first President in modern US history that has not tried to extend beyond his political base, governing all Americans.

His example carries outsize importance for his supporters — which goes to the importance of him wearing one and supporting their use — and negative valence with anyone else.

The public record shows that President Trump holds significant responsibility for the politicization of masks in the USA and thereby actively undermined a basic public health intervention that would have made a huge difference in the R value (infection rate) of a deadly disease.

God may have mercy on his soul, but historians will not be kind.

Americans will keep dying on his watch until our nation masks up, tests, traces, isolates & treats every case.

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